Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Know Your Market: YA Vs. MG Part I

I like to intern within the realm of the book industry and there are things I've noticed during critique sessions, interning  or during the contests we've held about YA vs. MG.


I've read queries or manuscripts where the voice is distinctly MG and yet it's being pitched as YA. There has always been a huge debate between what makes something MG and what makes it YA. Heck, Auzy and I had a lovely 30-something email exchange on the subject. We've agreed to disagree.

I believe age is a definite factor, especially for publishers, booksellers, and agents. Upper MG has started to become a category we use to pitch agents, but Barnes & Noble still has no designated section. It's still under "childrens". Upper MG can have main characters as old as 15, but the subject matter is cleaner less YA based. Notice how Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was considered MG but as the series progressed (ie: characters got older) and material got darker then it began to be called YA?

Age is how booksellers categorize books and display them. Which, yes, with ebooks it can be a bit different but most ebooks are still in sections (like childrens and Young Adult). So booksellers want to buy books from publishers who have books that are easy to categorize. So publishers want agents to show them manuscripts that are easy to place. Again, it comes back to target audience. Will 16-year-olds really want to read about a 12-year-old protagonist? What I heard from an agent a few years back was that kids like to read up. Now, you may be able to get a 12-year-old protagonist to read about a 14 or 15-year-old, but will it work the other way around?

Look out for Part II where I discuss the exceptions and why age isn't the ONLY factor. Still, it's one of the first things one looks at when considering whether a book is YA or MG. And who knows maybe Auzy will chime in to prove me wrong.

What's ya'lls take on the subject?



  1. When I read, in my brain I classify it based on the voice of the character in my head.

  2. I agree. If I see a 12-year-old MC, it's automatically MG in my mind. 16-17 is definitely YA. The only gray area is when the protagonist is right in the middle, 13,14 or 15, then it depends on the content and the tone of the novel. Great article! I'm bookmarking it for a future blog post I'm working on about the characteristics of a MG novel. Looking forward to reading more posts! Interesting topic.

  3. @Summer :) I'll be tackling that one either this week or next week. Age isn't the only factor.

    @Annie :) Thanks, glad the article was of interest.

  4. When I was 12/13, I always wanted to read about older kids - the ones in high school - so I'd be ready when I got there. When I was in high school, I wanted to read all the stuff my mom said I couldn't (because it was too adult). I'd be willing to bet a truckload of donuts, kids today feel the same way. So now I'm totally confused. How do you write a YA version of 50 SHADES OF GREY and a MG version of THE HUNGER GAMES?

  5. I think tone has a lot to do with it. Age seems important, but I've been reading a lot of fairy tale books lately (because I'm writing a sort of fairy tale MG), and many of them have older protagonists--you know, princesses or things like that--but they're still marked as MG.

  6. YA is 12 year old plus, but it is divided into lower YA (12-14) and upper YA (15+). The edgier topics found in upper YA are not suitable for 12 year olds. Also, the age of the protagonist does not automatically make it YA. The voice has to be authentic teen. This is where a lot of writers who have never read YA or don't have teens (or are around teens ) get it wrong. They write a book with a teenage character who acts and sounds like an adult. The emotional and logical reasoning of a teen and adult are not the same. The brains between an adult and teen are not the same.

  7. @Stina, great point. That's where a lot of authors in the adult market run into problems when they decide to make the plunge from the adult market to the YA market.

    (Don't worry I don't think age is the only factor, just one of them) :) Lol though our resident dude, Auzy, thinks age isn't at all (I think--If I'm wrong, Auzy, correct me)

    @Fiona, I guess you can write a reallllyyyy tame version of The Hunger Games, but doubt it'd hold that same spark.

    @G.B. Skye for sure! Ohh darn I wish I remember the agent who said this--it was either Kathleen Ortiz, Suzie Townsend or Jen Laughran, but someone said that those clean teen fairy tale type ones (like Ella Enchanted) were really popular I think in the 80s or 90s but they weren't selling today, at least not marked as YA. A lot have started to get marked MG. (I hope I'm not butchering the words of whoever said this). And I agree--if the novel's voice and tone screams MG then it should be MG. I don't mind older protagonists in MG at all. But I will admit that the younger ones in YA are a little tougher.

  8. Tone and age have a lot to do with whether something is MG or YA (also when deciding between Young Adult or New Adult). I consider MG 12 - 14 and YA 15 - 18, sometimes they both can go a little older (like a MG being 15 years-old) but with those cases it's the tone that becomes the deciding factor of whether it's MG or YA. Harry Potter is a good example. With the first two books it was lighter, but when you get to the Goblet of Fire it's clear it's become YA. It's not just because of the age, but the tone changed.

  9. I think Harry Potter is an excellent example of the transition from MG to YA.

  10. I think tone is a bigger factor than the MCs age in classifying a novel. 'Lord of the Flies' is definitely not a MG book, but all of the characters are 12 and younger. There are books with older MCs that are perfectly appropriate for a YA/MG crowd (Sherlock Holmes comes to mind -- I was obsessed with the series when I was in middle school). I think in classifying, you need to look at tone, reading difficulty, and age of the characters in unison.